Motorola's Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade time frame is absurd

Taylor Martin
 from  Concord, NC
| Published: February 15, 2012

Easily one of the biggest sore spots for Android users has been software updates, which goes hand in hand with the nefarious (and sometimes blown out of proportion) fragmentation issues. As soon as the latest Android update is released by Google (and often the weeks and months before), users start poking and prodding, looking for answers. My device is X months old, will it be updated? When can I expect the update? Do I just need to buy a new phone?

In the defense of hardware manufacturers, they've definitely gotten more used to the grind and dealing with consumers' constant barrage of questions, accusations and crude remarks. But that's what you have to expect when your software update schedule is laughable at best.

In contrast, Windows Phone and iOS updates are much easier to make sense of and to anticipate. (That could change in the future for Windows Phone, but I have a hard time believing Microsoft will let fragmentation stretch to the extent Android sees it.) A date is given and, for the most part, every device is eligible for the update on or around the same time. Well, in theory at least. The first couple minor Windows Phone updates were much better on paper than they were in practice. But a few kinks are to be expected in the beginning.

This is no Google or any Android partner OEM's first rodeo. They should be weathered and have it down to an art by now.

Unlike past updates, though, they have tried to keep us in the loop by offering news and updates on the progress of the development process. Last week, I touched on Motorola and how they've been so open, even going as far as explaining (in broad terms) a step-by-step process of building a software update. It's hard not to commend them for that. But then they went on to blame hardware for the latency, saying that after Google releases the update, they begin to modify the software – which as been coded to work with a single, reference device – to work with their own hardware.

The interesting (and quite hilarious) part is that Google and Samsung chose a TI OMAP chipset as the reference CPU in Ice Cream Sandwich. And what chipset Motorola is notorious for using? None other than TI OMAP chips, of course. There are obviously differences that need to be accounted for between different chip models, but from my understanding, the work needed to make ICS compatible with a slightly different model TI OMAP would be less than, say, a Snapdragon or Exynos chip. The only "long pole in the tent" left, as Motorola likes to call it, is altering the source code to work with their own radios to support "multiple radio bands for multiple countries."

I'm no software engineer, and I know things like this take some time, especially when you have a handful of devices to work with. But something tells me this shouldn't take over six months, even for 20 or more devices. Look at Huawei, for example, who pumped out an Ice Cream Sandwich build for the Honor on Cricket Wireless in just about a month's time.

This morning, however, Motorola updated their blog and software update news page with the latest on their Ice Cream Sandwich update progress. In short, a large portion of the devices are still in the "Evaluation and Planning" phase of the update – 14 of 20, to be exact. Those devices are: the Admiral, DROID 3, DROID 4, DROID BIONIC, DROID RAZR, DROID RAZR MAXX, DROID X2, DROID Xyboard 8.2, DROID Xyboard 10.1, Electrify, Milestone 3, Milestone X2, Motorola Pro+, and XOOM 3G. Motorola's explanation of this phase is as follows:

"During this phase, we evaluate the benefits, technical issues and user experience of an upgrade. Generally, we are not able to provide release dates in this stage. There are also some cases in which we can state that an upgrade will happen but are not able to provide a release date. Please note that some products that enter the Evaluation and Planning phase may not complete the upgrade cycle."

Only one device, the XOOM Family Edition, has an expected rollout planned for Q2. And the remaining five will supposedly received Ice Cream Sandwich in Q3 later this year. Those devices are the Atrix 4G, Atrix 2, Photon 4G, Xyboard 8.2 and Xyboard 10.1.

That's a lot to take in and little to be excited over. In fact, I would upset if I were the owner of a Motorola device right now. The only positive news here is that some older devices, like the Atrix 4G, did get mentioned and should receive the update. But all of these dates are tentative and subject to change. Just because a device is in the Evaluation and Planning phase does not mean it will be updated. This was just to keep the pitchfork mobs at bay.

Realistically, a software update should never take more than three months to reach consumer hands after the software is released to developers. I understand that there are often snags that can slow things down and the carrier approval process can be a nightmare at times. Delays happen. That's life. But there is simply no reasonable explanation for software updates taking a minimum of four to nine months to be pushed to an end user's device.

By the time nearly three-fourths of Motorola's current devices get updated to Ice Cream Sandwich, we will be on the brink of yet another software update. And I'm almost positive that we will see at least a couple new (likely more, judging by the way Verizon and Motorola like to release DROID handsets) Motorola phones running Ice Cream Sandwich before most of the recent, "Ice Cream Sandwich-ready" devices are updated, only to add to the frustration.

What's pitiful is that Motorola is hardly the only OEM with such a ludicrous update schedule. HTC, Samsung, LG and the lot of them are doing and will continue to do the same thing, despite the aim of the Android Update Alliance.

How does all of this make you feel, Motorola users? Do you think Motorola is too lax on Ice Cream Sandwich updates? Will this affect whether you buy from Motorola in the future? Do you think the Google buyout might help speed things up?